Hakuna Matata


This blog entry about the events of Friday, April 09, 2004 was originally posted on April 15, 2004.

DAY 174:  The Swahili phrase “Hakuna matata,” made popular by Disney’s The Lion King, is such a wonderful phrase.  Hakuna matata ain’t no passing phase.  It means “no worries,” for the rest of your days.  It’s a problem-free philosophy.  Hakuna matata!

(Try reading that without singing; it’s near impossible.)

As teenage Simba (voiced my Matthew Broderick) explains Hakuna matata in the acclaimed Disney film, “Sometimes bad things happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so why worry?”

HAKUNA MATATA WAS MY MANTRA THAT MORNING despite the fact that I continued to worry about how to deal with my upcoming border crossing.  When I woke up on the bus around 6 a.m. after a restless night of non-continuous sleep, I knew I had just six hours left to figure out a plan.  Taking Simba’s quote in mind, what if there was something I could do about it?  My options remained:  try to get a call to Jolly Boys and tell them I would cross at Kasane, Botswana, or come up with $25 in American cash.  Both seemed impossible since I was venturing away from European settlements and towards the wild, undeveloped grasslands that, according to Phillip, a seasoned traveler I met on the bus, was “the real Africa.” (picture below)

Every bus stop I tried to do either option, but being the Saturday of a holiday weekend, it was near impossible.  Phones didn’t work, and when they did, they only worked with specific phone cards that could be purchased at the gas station shop — if only it was open.  And don’t even mention trying to get American or South Africa money from a machine anywhere in Namibia.  During a 40-minute stop in Katima Mulilo, I tried to cash my remaining $70 in travelers’ checks, but the nearby money exchange was closed.  So I bought a phone card at a nearby gas station, but the phone was busy until the bus was about to leave.

Realizing that there was nothing I could do in the remaining time, I just didn’t worry and read two more chapters in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.  I clung to Juliana’s words of wisdom:  In Africa, everything seems to just work out in the end.

THE INTERCAPE BUS CROSSED from Namibia into the small section of northeastern Botswana that bordered with both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The immigration offices there were painless; both Namibia and Botswana are countries well-off enough with tourism and diamond-mining that there were no visa fees.  The bus rode through a section of Chobe National Park and then the town of Kasane, where I saw familiar buildings and roads of the time I was there in 2000.  Over those four years, it didn’t look like much had changed at all.

Intercape dropped Juliana and I off on a road about a mile away from the border.  We hiked this road with all our gear, passed the dozens of eighteen-wheelers in line waiting to clear customs.  From the looks of things, it looked like it might take days.

For my first border crossing in “real Africa” — a land where I suddenly rediscovered that I would no longer blend in as a coloured, but stand out as a Japanese tourist — I kept the faith.  The exit out of Botswana was easy; submit a form, get an exit stamp, find a way over the 750-meter stretch of the Zambezi River which separates Botswana with Zambia.  Crossing over required a 10,000 Zambian Kwacha fee (about two American bucks) for a zippy motorboat; or ZK1,000 fee for the cargo ferry.  Using the Nyanja language she learned in the Peace Corps, Juliana led the way amidst the crowd of locals who all marveled and smiled when she spoke a familiar dialect. 

No one was at the motorboat and the ferry was just arriving, so we just took that.  Juliana spotted me the cash.  The cruise of locals, cars and cargo took less than ten minutes.  Juliana used her Nyanja to get a ride for us from a local guy to the Zambian immigration entry office.  It was Judgment Time.

“Here we go, Moment of Truth,” I said. 

Thoughts raced through my mind.  Did Jolly Boys alert this office of my arrival at this crossing, and if not, how easy would it be for them to contact the other office?  (There were no telephones or computers in sight.)  Would they take a travelers’ check if I did have to pay after all, and if not, did Juliana magically have any U.S. currency on her?  (Why would she?  She was a Zambian resident of two years.)

I got on the line with my entry form and eventually got to the desk to sign the registry.  I gave the officer my passport.

“My visa is being arranged by my backpackers.”

“Don’t say anything, they might not charge you anyway,” Juliana said under her breath.  But it was too late; I had spoken too soon.

“Which backpackers?” the officer asked me.

“Jolly Boys in Livingstone.”

“Okay.”  The officer made no fuss and just stamped my form, its duplicate and a page in my passport in three quick motions.  Pound, pound, pound.  Done.

“That was surprisingly easy,” I told Juliana.

“I knew you didn’t have to pay here.”

ALTHOUGH JULIANA USUALLY GOT AROUND ZAMBIA BY HITCHING — a common and perfectly safe way to get around, even as a woman, so she said —  we took a shared minivan taxi at ZK10,000 each (she spot me again) for the long and hot hour-long drive to Livingstone, the Zambian border town at Victoria Falls.  Juliana kept light conversation with the local men in the back and continued to entertain them with her Nyanja words. 

“I’ll be surprised if I get off the bus without a marriage proposal,” she told me.  It was a common thing for her.

Two police checkpoints and three hitchhikers later, we arrived on the main road of Livingstone.  I walked Juliana to her backpackers, Fawlty Towers, but left her there to find the Jolly Boys since I had a credit card reservation with them.  It was about seven blocks away in a new location than the one in my Lonely Planet map, and it was there I was greeted by Kim from Ottawa, Canada working the reception desk. 

“I crossed at Kasane but I didn’t have to pay,” I told her.

“Oh, I put your name on the manifest there.”

“Really?  My e-mail sounded like I was coming in from Zimbabwe.” 

“Didn’t you get my e-mail?”

“No, I had no time before my bus left.” 

As Juliana said, In Africa, everything seems to just work out in the end. 

I CHECKED INTO JOLLY BOYS at the same time as Shelle, an American from Georgia living and working in a clinic in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, and her visiting friend from North Carlolina, Deann.  For Shelle, a trip to Victoria Falls and Botswana’s Chobe National Park was a much needed vacation on her long weekend; for Deann, it was a much needed vacation from her job as an eighth grade history and science teacher — and her first time abroad from North America for that matter.

The three of us got our beds in the spacious dorm room with its own shower.  While the two girls settled in, I went out on the town to get some cash.  Kim directed me to two ATMs on the main strip of Livingstone, but when I went to both, they were Visa/Plus/Electron network only — and my Citibank ATM card was only accessible on the Mastercard/Cirrus/Maestro system.  I asked around for other ATMs but the only other one was Visa-based too.  Visa really is everywhere you want to be. 

All bank tellers wouldn’t be open for any other transaction until after the Easter weekend, which included Easter Monday, an extra public holiday in Zambia.

I wasn’t bothered.  After the events of the past two days, I took the two mottoes to heart:  Don’t worry until you have to.  In Africa, everything seems to just work out in the end.

Suddenly I realized that the emergency credit card of my parents (in my name) was a Visa.  I had Kim send out an e-mail home in hopes someone could call me back with a PIN.  In the meantime, Kim said I could charge my lodging and that I could start a tab at the bar if I left my passport as a deposit.  My $25 (USD) package deal with Jolly Boys not only got me a free visa invitation into the country, but a beer voucher and two meal vouchers.  With that and my spare cans of tuna, food was covered.  My water bottle had a built-in purifier, so I was covered on drinking water. 

I sat out by the pool at sunset with my new friends Shelle and Deann and explained them my whole situation.

“Don’t you listen to the [Visa] commercials?” Deann joked. 

Shelle, a Zambian resident from America, knew just what I was going through; she was in the same shoes as I was earlier on.  She told me that out of all of Zambia, there was only one ATM that would take a Mastercard-based ATM card and it was in Lusaka.  Kate and Sarah, two American Peace Corp volunteers that I met at the Jolly Boys Easter Saturday Braai (I used a meal voucher) told me it was the same situation in my next destination, Malawi.

Until the Tuesday after Easter weekend, I’d have to scrimp and get by on credit and goodwill and not waste money on the internet.

“You can always borrow money from me if you need,” Shelle kindly offered.

Don’t worry until you have to.  In Africa, everything seems to just work out in the end.  Hakuna matata.

Next entry: Once In A Lifetime, Again

Previous entry: Worrywart

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Comments for “Hakuna Matata”

  • It really really is everywhere you WANT to be afterall.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  11:02 PM

  • Do they take Amex?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  05:05 AM

  • TD0T:  Amex doesn’t even have an ATM network… if they do, then no.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  06:03 PM

  • I’m floored. I cannot believe that it did all work out in the end. I would have been an absolute wreck worring about all that stuff. I guess it’s part of Africa’s mystique, and your good luck.

    Then again I’m a lunatic, trying to squeeze every moment out of a trip. Especially when travelling on the standard 2-week vacation scenario—no time for foul-ups, no time for missed connections, no time for going back. If we miss something, or some surprise closing/holiday/laborstrike snafu happens I eventually come to the conclusion that it means “we’ll have to come back some day.”  It happens all the time and before the phrase kicks in, I’m all bent.

    BTW, based on that we have to go back to Paris to see the Musee d’Orsay, Greece to get to Santorini, Florence for the Bargello and Pitti, Rome for the Ara Pacis (this is the most elusive target—missed 3x), and Utah for Arches Nat’l Pk.

    It’s the thrill of the hunt I suppose, but I’ll get back to those places some day—all the more reason to pack a suitcase and catch a plane!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  11:40 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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